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Vatican Official Miffed at Israel

By SARI BASHI, Associated Press Writer, 07/19/1999


TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- Miffed at Israel's cool response to the Vatican's efforts to rid the church of anti-Semitism, a papal representative said Monday that Israel was to blame for tensions between Jews and the Catholic Church.

The Rev. David Yager shocked a conference on anti-Semitism by saying that Israel's anti-Catholic attitude -- not the Catholic Church's anti-Israel attitude -- was preventing relations from warming as Israel prepares to greet millions of Catholic pilgrims in the millennium.

``The Catholic Church and the Jewish people are now allies, friends and lovers,'' said the brown-robed priest, who represents the Holy See on a bilateral committee to improved relations with Israel.

However, Israel has angered the Vatican by refusing to acknowledge Catholic overtures of friendship, including recent official declarations against anti-Semitism, Yager said.

He said Israel aimed to keep the Vatican on the defensive, pointing to Israeli reminders of Pope Pius XII's alleged failure to speak out against Nazi atrocities during World War II, which he called a ``blood libel.''

Israel has sharply criticized a proposal in the Vatican to beatify Pius, the last step before making him a saint, saying his public silence on the genocide of 6 million Jews facilitated collaboration with the Nazis.

The Vatican says Pius acted for Jews behind the scenes, and that public activism would have endangered Catholic lives.

Jewish participants said Yager was glossing over 2,000 years of Catholic anti-Semitism.

``Our questions, our desires to search the truth are not blood libelous,'' said an angry Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Foxman praised efforts by the current pope, John Paul II, to remove anti-Semitism from Catholic liturgy but said the message was not filtering down to churches at the grassroots level.

``We both have responsibilities that we haven't fulfilled,'' he said, suggesting that levels of anti-Semitism were still higher-than-average among Catholics.

The Vatican and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1993, reaching a peak in efforts to reconcile the Jewish people and the Roman Catholic church.

But relations remain strained.

Rabbi David Rosen, an ADL representative to the Israel-Holy See committee, said that after 2,000 years of church-sanctioned anti-Semitism, it would take time for Jews to regain trust in the Vatican.

``The major educational onus is on the Catholic side,'' he said, noting, for example, that many priests still believe that suffering was brought upon the Jewish people because they rejected Jesus -- although that doctrine was officially renounced in the 1960s, with the Vatican II council.

Yager said that Jewish mistrust of Catholics was unjustified and that Israel was creating antagonism. He claimed, for example, that the commonly used Hebrew word for Jesus, Yeshu, is actually an acronym for ``May his name and memory be erased.''

Jewish researchers suggest that Yeshu is merely the Hebrew corruption of the Greek version of ``Joshua,'' believed to be Jesus' birth name; or that it is the shortened version of the Hebrew word ``Yeshua,'' which means savior.

The mutual recriminations are hampering preparations for the millions of Catholics expected to visit Israel next year, particularly if the Pope fulfills his announced desire to visit the Holy Land in March of 2000.

Arrangements for meetings between Catholic pilgrims and Israelis have not materialized, and the lack of coordination between Christian tour groups and the Jewish state have left many predicting a logistical nightmare.

Rosen said the tourists represented an opportunity for education on both sides -- and that he and Yager would try to put history aside to take advantage of it.


AP-NY-07-19-99 1540EDT

Copyright (c) Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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